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6527212 March 17, 2010

Disciplined Dreamer: Melissa Walker

"It's discipline--not the muse--that gets the work done."

I strive to be stay focused and exercise discipline. I make lists and enjoy crossing off the items as they're accomplished. When I worked full time in the pharmaceutical industry, my daily list was usually two pages long. There was so much to do! If I stopped for even a moment, I'd fail. I couldn't "do it tomorrow" because I knew morning would bring a brand new list my way.

I got a heck of a lot done! I also watched a lot of life pass me by. I lacked the time and energy needed to reach out and grab it.

Now that I'm writing and painting full time, my basic to-do list has shriveled.

It's more like:

1) Email
2) Write blog entry and post
3) Paint
5) Write novel
4) Fold and put away laundry

I often break a few of these down into much more detailed lists, but overall, it's still shorter than it was when I was: working as global director at Johnson & Johnson; raising a teenager and a toddler; working on a Master's Degree; writing a novel on the side; finding time for my husband, etc. That took tenacity, gumption, dedication, organization, and discipline!

So now that I have more time, I often feel like I'm in slow motion. It's a strange phenomenon. Sometimes having all the time in the world isn't quite the great medicine you thought it would be. The feeling of "I can do it tomorrow" sucks the life right out of you--if you lack discipline. And as my guest today, author and journalist Melissa Walker, points out, discipline is needed to bring creativity to life.

Leaving the corporate world was a huge adjustment for me, especially in terms of the writing. For nearly twenty years, I dreamed of being at home writing. Forced to carve out time, I wrote at lunch and pediatric waiting rooms. I wrote at 1:00 in the morning and while waiting in line to pick up my cheerleading daughter.

I got used to it; I adapted. Now that I'm sitting at home with nothing to do but write, it's somehow more difficult to get started. I won't say that I have writer's block, yet something is holding me back. I've written about 10,000 words on my new novel when I should have written 20,000 (according to my list).

Melissa has kindly reminded me that no matter what your situation may be, discipline remains key to seeing the work move out of your head and into your hands.

I'm giving myself a sharp slap on the wrist. Once this is posted, I'm working on that novel!

Thanks Melissa!

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I always wanted to write. I banged out my first story, "The Very Vain Cloud," on my parents' typewriter at age six or so.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I enjoy visual arts also--I love contemplating cover designs of books and thinking about colors, fonts, shapes, etc. But the truth is, that's just for fun. I don't think I have talent in that area. Writing is my real focus.

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I think creative people dream more, and that's a good thing!

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I believe being creative has both caused some aberrations (just the fact that I don't have a traditional paycheck, for one) and helped me deal with some too. The idea of working in an office all day is an aberration to me--I knew that from the first year after I graduated from college and I set about trying to be sure I could find a career that wouldn't insist upon that. Writing pointed me in the right direction and showed me a job I could do on my own time, in my own way.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I haven't, really. I've been lucky. My parents were always very encouraging of my dream of becoming a writer, and I think that's why I'm sitting in my pink flowered writing chair today.

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

Oh yes! I can't distinguish any talent. I just wing it and hope against hope that I've put up enough smoke and mirrors to make someone think I can do this writing work. I think all writers are insecure that way. At least, that's what I hear.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How did (or do) you cope with disappointments? What motivated you to keep going, to not give up?

I struggle with this regularly. I think everyone has ups and downs, but rolling with them instead of fighting them is important. Also: Do what you love. Then even if success feels far away, you're enjoying the journey.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

I outline. I put on music. I watch TV. I take walks. My mind circles the whole time and then I sit down to work. It's really the sitting down to work that does it. It's discipline--not the muse--that gets the work done.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

I don't know about everyone but I feel that my creativity comes from:

1. Being a big dreamer

2. Watching the world around me closely

3. Reading anything and everything I can get my hands on.

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

I think fear of failure gets in our way a lot. If something's unfinished, you don't have to show it to anyone and you don't have to risk rejection. But getting something done? That's a step toward the scary process of giving it to the world. It's terrifying!___________________________________________

Next Week: Kevin O'Hanlan, Photographer/Filmmaker and New York Gallery Owner

Also watch for NEW questions on creativity in upcoming interviews.

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